Managing disruption at a time of crisis

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The COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted everything, everywhere. All organisations should have had business continuity measures, and they should have been tried and tested. These measures include management plans, communication plans, evacuation plans, major disaster plans, denial of premises plans, and even pandemic plans, the list goes on.

A pandemic isn’t new – in 2009, Swine Flu kicked off a major government response, and so central government plans have been both tested and improved since then. Going back even further, the fuel protests in 2000 generated a situation whereby the nation began to ground to a halt, and decisions around the continuation of business and government were moments from being taken.

Technological, societal, economic, and of course political changes can all dramatically impact the aims of an organisation both positively and negatively. In this country we are fortunately spared the immediate impact of wars, but don’t think they can’t disrupt your business – a conflict in the Middle East can rapidly impact everything that is normal. That’s been happening as far back as the Suez crisis of 1956, and still the stock market acts as surprised!

Key to managing operations during periods of disruption is knowing what is going on to enable informed decision making, coupled with constant review and communication. Accurate data to provide meaningful information plays a vital role.

Preparing for the unexpected

Running a risk register and not just consigning it to a file hidden somewhere on a server, but actively pursuing mitigation actions, immensely reduces the impact of disruption. Staff have already thought through what might need to occur, you have positioned strategic resources to enable business continuity, and most importantly of all, you will have practiced some of the events. Preparation is fundamental, and so is agility. Being able to adapt rapidly to change is the single biggest tool in an organisation’s armoury when confronted with unexpected events. Having a team who are adept at change management, and not afraid to think and work outside of the box is a winner.

I have heard it so often – “It will never happen,” or “It won’t impact us because we’re different.” And then of course, it does. If preparation is the friend in coping with disruption, then complacency is the enemy. Aiding complacency is the cost of preparation, but let me tell you straight away – the expense is miniscule in comparison to the cost of short term, hastily contrived, and poorly considered actions to attempt to recover mid-flight.

In the technology sector, disruption can be mega fast in terms of both occurrence and impact. Imagine a technology company that bets its money on an amazing new software development – investing millions of pounds and hours of development time only to find that a new hardware development effectively renders it redundant. It happens and will continue to happen. So as consumers of technology, we need to be looking as far into the future as possible with a deliberate focus on new and upcoming innovations, and prepare ourselves. Ultimately, the top way to manage this is to invent the future, be right at the front, and lead.

At the start of this piece I highlighted the disruption caused by COVID-19. That is just the beginning…so much will change as a consequence of these events, and everyone should be thinking and looking actively about what the future might hold. Those businesses that are coming through the current crisis with increased customer goodwill, are the ones that have put in the necessary preparation. Today, the phrase ‘prepare for the unexpected” has never been more profound.

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